By Simon Hargreaves
“NO, stop mucking about. Take the Rebel seriously, please.”
I’m talking to myself again, inside my knackered vintage Arai, as the rear end of the Honda CMX500 slews back in line, rear tyre hopping while the single front disc plugs its soft forks into Spanish tarmac and the ABS ties itself in knots.
But it’s hard to take the little Thai-built custom-cum-bobber seriously, for two reasons: firstly, it’s called a Honda Rebel ferchrissakes – which is an open goal for, “Honda Rebel; isn’t that a contradiction?”-type jokes. Harsh but fair: it’s not easy to imagine a less rebellious motorcycle. The CMX500 is about as subversive as Terry And June.
But the other reason it’s hard to take the Rebel seriously is because it’s so much fun. Perhaps unexpectedly, it’s a bike born with a smile on its face – a silly, thrashable giggle of a thing, like taking a bouncy but excitable spaniel for a walk. Despite of the name, cheesy styling, ho-hum performance and competent chassis, underneath the marketing bananas the Rebel is a fab wee runaround. In fact, you could say it’s a rebelation. It also costs £5,399, which is small change in new bike money.
The straight-faced spec sheet doesn’t blow the CMX’s riding punch-line. The Rebel’s motor is the A2 licence friendly 471cc parallel twin from the CBR500R, retuned via fuelling (not cam timing) to deliver the same claimed 45hp at the same 8,500rpm, and the same 32 lbft peak torque – but delivered 1,000rpm lower than the CBR500R, at 6000rpm (before you get too excited by those numbers, remember the original CB500 in the early 1990s made a measured 51hp).
The engine is the only CBR-related item on the Rebel; everything else is new. The motor is mated to a bespoke steel tube frame that loops round the back of the single seat, with a steel tube swingarm. Forks are unadjustable 41mm Showa, the rear shock are preload-adjustable Showa, and the single front disc is a 264mm one with a Nissin two-pot caliper. Pretty basic stuff. Wheels are 16-inch front and rear, kerb weight is a mere 190kg. Seat height is only 690mm, which is almost low enough to get both knees, let alone both feet, on the floor at standstill. The fuel tank holds 11.2 litres of happy juice.
And so, the Rebel is not a big bike. And anyone over 6ft will approach the CMX500 warily – it looks tiny and low, and you’re not sure how ridiculous you’ll look. The self-consciousness continues when you first sit on it – the seat is so deep, your bum so close to the floor and the tank so slim and steeply raked, it’s a bit like getting in a go-kart.
But the Rebel isn’t uncomfortable – bars meet you halfway, pegs are set low but mid-placed so you don’t slump on the base of your spine, your knees aren’t up by your ears, and the seat itself has room for manoeuvre. And anyway, a tankful only lasts 100 miles.
Controls are basic – the single round clock has inverted LEDs showing speed, fuel gauge and trips, but there’s no tacho. The Rebel has mandatory ABS, but no other frills – even the ignition lives on the left side of the steering column (not the right!).
And let’s pause here, before riding, to consider the Rebel’s styling. Honda say the project’s chief engineer, Keita Mikura (who also designed the Vultus), was inspired by a visit to the Bike Shed in London in 2013, which left him wanting to create a similar cool custom chop from the factory. Development of the Rebel shifted to North America – presumably because Europe’s not cool enough. And they’re good at choppery bobbers over there.